Frustration. Disappointment. Distrust. Like several of his cross country teammates, junior Wyatt McLeod experienced a plethora of negative emotions when Augustana announced its decision to join Division I. However, in the two-and-a-half weeks since Augustana’s announcement, student-athletes assessed — and, in some cases, changed — their feelings towards the Division I transition.
And that’s exactly what happened to McLeod.
“I’m not concerned at all about going Division I,” McLeod said, after weighing the pros and cons of Augustana’s decision. “I know our athletics will do just fine and thrive in a new way. We’ll figure it out.”
Flash back to McLeod’s senior year: the Lincoln Northeast grad considered all three NCAA divisions before committing to Augustana University in the fall of 2015. To McLeod, choosing a specific division wasn’t as important as finding a school that fit his criteria: reputable academics, competitive athletics, a small student body and a family-like atmosphere.
Augustana fulfilled all four.
So upon Augustana’s 2030 Vision announcement, McLeod feared losing the qualities that initially attracted him to the university.
“I felt as though I was gonna lose the Division II mindset of being [blue collar and] hardworking,” McLeod said. “I also thought that I was gonna lose the family that I’d formed.”
However, after talking to Lincoln Southwest High School cross country coach Parker Schoen, McLeod’s views changed. According to McLeod, Schoen asked one vital, perspective-shifting question: “at the end of the day, did you commit to a program or a division?”
“And it became obvious to me that if I trusted my coaches, our program would keep its integrity and values,” McLeod said.
Currently, McLeod neither promotes nor opposes Augustana’s decision to pursue Division I. Rather, McLeod finds himself “just being okay with it.”
“I know my family — the team — can handle whatever is thrown our way,” McLeod said.
However, McLeod still feels “forgotten by [his] own school” — not because of the Division I decision but the ways in which the decision was made.
On the evening of Thursday, December 13, Board of Trustees Chair Tom Davis emailed faculty, students and alumni, announcing “AU: Vision 2030” — a multifold plan including the transition to a Division I athletics conference. In the email, Davis announced that the board and President Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin would hold an “informal gathering” the following morning, fostering discussions and answering questions about the approved plan.
The only problem? The meeting was held the morning after students traveled home for Christmas break.
“It really bothered me how [the board] waited until everyone was off campus to announce it,” McLeod said. “I know they did that on purpose to avoid as much in person backlash.”
Several Augustana students, including McLeod, would have preferred greater transparency from the board — including letting students voice their opinions before a decision is made.
“I came to a small school so that I [could be] more than a number,” McLeod said. “I came to Augie because I felt like I would matter. The way the higher ups handled this decision has made me feel as though I and my opinion don’t matter at all.”
McLeod maintains his acceptance of the Division I plan. He maintains his love for his second family — the Augustana cross country team. Yet, McLeod’s opinion of the administration has shifted.
“I trust my coaches, but I don’t think I can trust the higher ups at my school anymore,” McLeod said.